I tried punching in the numbers for my sister’s store over and over, and either the phone wasn’t working or my fingers weren’t, because nothing was happening. In between each attempt to contact her, I was frantically looking for clothing to wear. Each item I pulled from the closet was wrong. I’d try it on and it was either the wrong size or didn’t match anything else. Exasperated, I started applying make-up, and even that was going frustratingly slow. I’d keep checking the clock and it was getting closer to the 3:00 hour. Finally, the phone rang on the other end and I heard Pat’s voice over other voices in the background. My heart sank. She was really busy, and alone.
“Was I supposed to come into work today?” I asked, and she sighed; a long, exasperated sigh.
“Yes, an hour ago.”
“I’m so sorry. I was gone and I just got back, and I’ve been trying to call you for an hour and the phone wasn’t working.” Even as I said the words I knew I was lying about being gone. I hadn’t been anywhere. I wasn’t even dressed. I’d just remembered I was supposed to be at work when I tried calling. I looked down at my clothes and knew they were totally inappropriate to wear to work at my sister’s consignment store. The jeans were dirty and the legs flared out at the bottom like hippie bell-bottoms. I had to find a dress or some nice slacks. Even as I talked on the phone I was pulling things out of dresser drawers.
“Do you still want me to come in?” I asked Pat as I continued to rummage through clothing.
“Only if you can get here within the next few minutes. Otherwise don’t bother.” I could hear the irritation and anger in her voice. I couldn’t stand the thought of her being angry at me. I hung up the phone, determined to finish getting dressed and get to her store.
But first I really had to go to the bathroom.
I opened the bathroom door and stopped in my tracks. My mother was in there, and she was so busy doing something with a hammer and nails, that she didn’t look up.
Where had she put the toilet? My eyes roamed the transformed room. I really had to go, but I didn’t want to bother my mother, she was so busy. I looked behind a shower curtain and there was a claw-foot tub. Two of my sons were sitting on the edge of the tub, talking animatedly.
“Where’s the toilet?” I asked and one of them paused in his conversation long enough to point towards a big hole in the floor. I glanced back at my mother, who was busy cutting strips of black painted wood. My, how fast she worked! She had so much energy as she went from one project to the other. She was thin, her back straight. She looked to be in her late thirties. Her long hair was gathered in a bun at the nape of her neck. She wore slacks and a white blouse with a ridiculous ruffle at the front. I felt the urge to talk to her, but didn’t want to interrupt her work.
I walked over to the hole and looked down into it. My mother had rigged up something very crude as a toilet, but had gone to the trouble to nail a shiny gold liner around the edge of it. I bent over and saw an old, stained mattress propped at an angle inside the hole for what I assumed was a guide for the waste matter, but it didn’t make sense to me to be using a cloth mattress instead of a metal pipe.
“How do you use this?” I asked loudly, but the boys didn’t reply. They continued talking behind the shower curtain, and my mother worked on, the nails and the saw she was using drowning out my voice.
I felt a real sense of urgency. I really had to go. I wouldn’t be able to make it to my sister’s shop so that I could go in a real toilet.
I cleared my throat.
How does this work?” My booming voice startled everyone. The room was suddenly silent and I sensed, rather than saw, my mother approach. Two worn white Keds stood at the edge of the hole that I still looked down into.
“You just go. In there.” Her hand fluttered a little above the hole, and when I looked up she’d turned her back to me, and stood there expectantly, her body a shield for my modesty in case the boys were to look.
I wanted to say, “But won’t the mattress get wet?” but she’d put so much work into it and she expected me to use it. I didn’t want to disappoint her.
So I went.
Then I left the room and closed the door.
And woke up.
And realized with a start, I saw my mother in a dream, and was inexplicably glad.
My mother died on November 3rd of last year and I’d been disappointed that she hadn’t at least visited me in a dream. I’ve felt her quiet presence, heard the words of her favorite song at an opportune time, and even thought I smelled the smoke of her cigarette once, but I hadn’t yet dreamt about her.
So what did the dream mean?
The rest of the scenario was familiar to me from other recurring dreams; not being able to dial a phone number, no clothes to wear, even having to go to the bathroom.
I could spend hours analyzing this vivid dream. I’d done a little dream analysis with a Professor Jayne Gackenbach in college (who has since written some dream analysis books). The fact that my mother was busy in the dream was no surprise. She was always busy. Even the age made sense. She would have been in her late thirties when I was a child. Though she usually wore dresses or skirts back then, she would dress in pants when doing dirty, hard work and she’d actually owned a blouse like the one I saw in the dream. Even the makeshift toilet was not totally without merit; my mother was a master at fixing things and cobbling something out of junk. She never wasted anything. And then there is the fact that for part of my childhood we actually used an outhouse for our bathroom. Not with gold-lined seats, perhaps, but still a crude method of toileting by today’s standards.
I woke up this morning and was glad my mother had visited me in a dream, but left wondering why she hadn’t allowed me to see her face. Was she trying to tell me something? What did the dream mean?
Maybe nothing. Maybe it was simply a dream, and not a message. I’ll never really know. But this morning I do know something that I have wondered many times.
I dream in color.